Charisma is a tricky thing. You either have it or you don’t—and Jimmy Dillon, the charming Texan at the center of Jennifer Close’s quietly captivating novel The Hopefuls, absolutely has it: that golden magnetism that makes you wonder what it would be like just to stand next to him, if only for a second.
Beth Kelly, our narrator, gets plenty of chances to bask in Jimmy’s light. She and her husband, Matt, who move from New York to D.C. (begrudgingly, on Beth’s part) for Matt’s political career, find fast friends in Jimmy and his Southern-belle wife, Ashleigh. Soon they too are carried upward on Jimmy’s golden waves of luck, and the four D.C. transplants become inseparable, protecting one another from the more obnoxious aspects of life in the capital, like monumental egos who brag about their security clearance at parties. Beth starts to think D.C. might not be so bad.
But even during the foursome’s honeymoon phase, there’s a low thrum of dread pulsing beneath the dinners and fund-raising galas. Troubling questions flicker through Beth’s mind: Is Jimmy cheating on Ash, as rumors allege? Will Matt—who’s always dreamed of running for office himself—ever catch up to Jimmy’s success? And do Beth and Matt, who married years ago, young and quickly, really know each other? When the Kellys follow the Dillons to Texas so Matt can head up Jimmy’s promising campaign for railroad commissioner, Jimmy’s finesse throws Matt’s shortcomings into sharper relief. “At the end of Jimmy’s campaign, there were a million things I was unsure of, and just one thing that was definite: Matt’s words sounded better when they came out of Jimmy’s mouth,” Beth says. “And it wasn’t fair, it was just the way it was.”
Close, whose husband worked on Obama’s campaign, uses her knowledge of this world—and her experience as an outsider—expertly. Beth’s conversational narration feels like peering into the diary of someone who shares your deepest insecurities: “I knew how awful I was being,” she says. “Maybe I just wanted things to stay the same for a little while longer. But mostly, I think, sometimes it’s just really hard to be happy for other people.” A–
MEMORABLE LINE “It was amazing how people turned their bodies toward him as he walked into a room, how his smile made them feel warm.”